Version Tested: PC
Also available on: Mac, XBox 360, XBox One, PS3, PS4, iOS, Android
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genre: Episodic Adventure
*Warning* I will do my best to avoid them, but there may be some minor spoilers throughout this review.
This is a look at both Episode 1: Zer0 Sum and Episode 2: Atlas Mugged.
The Borderlands universe has always been a unique and interesting setting for a video game. On its surface, Pandora seems like the perfect combination of loot collecting, fast paced shooting, and humorous writing that adds together into the perfect gaming experience. My issue with the Borderlands games is that I always want to like them much more than I actually do. I always feel like they become a slog; I do not find myself enjoying the gaming sections. Instead, I suffer through the actual shooting parts just so I can get to the next funny or interesting part.
This is where Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands comes in. Episode 1: Zer0 Sum was released in November, and Episode 2: Atlas Mugged came out earlier this week.
Telltale’s episodic games garner a “love ‘em or hate ‘em” attitude. Some people feel they are barely even games, and that the choices you make in game are pointless because they do not actually change the outcome of the story in dramatic ways. However, Tales from the Borderlands is, by far, the most fun adventure game yet from Telltale Games because your choices do matter. Not necessarily in dramatically altering the plot, but there are so many jokes packed in every line of this game that you will want to go back and make different choices just to see all of the snappy writing that it has to offer.
In case you are not familiar with how the different Telltale episodic series work (which includes games like The Walking Dead, Back to the Future, Game of Thrones, and The Wolf Among Us), here is a primer. Each series is broken into episodes, each of which lasts for a few hours. You will engage in dialogue, explore the world, and be forced to make difficult decisions (such as which close friend to side with in an argument). Throughout the series, the choices you make will change how characters interact with you and feel about you, and new dialogue options will open depending how you play through the game. At the end of each episode, you can find statistics that tell you what choices other players made compared to you. The problem many encounter when playing through these games is that nothing dramatically seems to change depending on your decisions, which can make replaying the game in a different way less appealing.
This is why the Borderlands setting is so perfect for an episodic game series. Borderlands has always had a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and avoided taking itself seriously. By combining this with the steampunk-meets-western ascetic of Pandora (the planet where most of the action occurs), Telltale is able to subvert many of the preconceived ideas we have about these games and really play with both universes. The game plays almost like a scavenger hunt; jokes, asides, hints, and sight gags are hidden everywhere. It is not often a game can make you repeatedly laugh out loud, but Tales from the Borderlands does just that. The protagonists and their sidekicks are immediately endearing, and even the villains have a clever charm that makes you love to hate them (as the big bad in previous Borderlands games can attest to).
These charming protagonists are fairly stereotypical, but they are characterized so that Telltale can play with our expectations. First, you play as Rhys (pronounced Reese), a businessman for the evil corporation Hyperion. Rhys is about to receive the promotion he has been carefully working towards for years, and his number-crunching accountant buddy Vaughn is along for the ride. You will quickly discover that Rhys and Vaughn are in way over their heads in the world of the cutthroat corporation, as they attempt to outthink and outmaneuver Rhys’s corporate rival, Hugo Vasquez (voiced by Brock Samson himself, Patrick Warburton). The fact that all three of these characters believe they are much smarter than they actually are makes for some great, fast-paced dialogue exchanges.
Your other protagonist is Fiona, a con-artist with a heart of gold. She is accompanied by her sister, Sasha, and Felix, a con-artist who has taught the girls everything they know about the underhanded ways to survive on Pandora. The three think they have figured out the ultimate con, and very quickly discover layers upon layers of trouble that they did not expect. The paths of Rhys and Fiona cross early and often, and watching the dynamic of different character pairs and trying to guess how they will respond to each other is very satisfying. There is a lot of graphical flair, such as important characters being introduced with a flourish and a brief description that will be familiar to anyone who has played a Borderlands title before.
The action sequences are frequent and intense, and it is very satisfying to get through them without knowing what is coming. The writing is on-point, the characters are endearing, and the game lets you in on the jokes at every turn. This game is a must-purchase for anyone who enjoys the Telltale episodic games, and it would be a great pick-up if you’re looking for where to start with this interesting gaming experience. Thus far, Tales from the Borderlands is my favorite of this genre from Telltale Games.
Love Tales from the Borderlands? Or are these “interactive TV shows” not for you? Sound off in the forums or the comments below!